The president of the European football federation UEFA has praised Poland and Ukraine for staging what he calls a “fantastic” Euro 2012 tournament.
Michel Platini spoke on June 30 in Kyiv, on the eve of the July 1 championship final in the Ukrainian capital between Spain and Italy.
“Poland and Ukraine have organized a fantastic tournament which has been unique in its atmosphere and will remain in our memories,” Platini said.
Platini added he was “proud” of Poland and Ukraine, and said Euro 2012, the first major football championship held in former Soviet bloc territories, “will leave an important legacy.”
Platini, a former standout French international, added that France, the host of the next European Championship in 2016, now has a high standard to equal.
"[Ukraine and Poland] were much maligned, but they have really shown themselves they were up to this and I'm very proud for the Polish and Ukrainian people," he said.
"And I am very proud of the players who have provided the most beautiful images one could hope for, with their offensive-style football that was top class."
The three-week tournament has been praised for being mostly trouble-free, apart from some violence between Russian and Polish fans and incidents of racial abuse by supporters of a few teams.
In advance of the tournament, Ukraine in particular had been described in Western media reports as a hub of racist violence, repression, and crumbling infrastructure.
The reports noted the case of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose prosecution has been condemned by the United States and European Union as an example of abuse of the legal system by authorities to target political enemies.
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A former England player, Sol Campbell, even went so far as to warn tourists to stay away from both Poland and Ukraine, saying they might come back in a “coffin" because of the racism and violence of football fans in the two neighboring countries.
But with the final in Kyiv hours away, no racist incidents or crowd violence have yet been reported in Ukraine.
The Polish capital Warsaw, meanwhile, saw clashes between Polish and Russian fans. And the football associations of Russia, Spain, and Croatia were fined by UEFA for racist behavior by their supporters.
"I think everyone can see and say that there has been really no instances of racism in Poland and Ukraine. The journalists can bear witness to this and I'm sure the national federations of Ukraine can also confirm this," Platini said.
"I think racism exists all over the world -- in Poland, in Ukraine, in France, in England. We need to fight it, we need to protect against racism. European Championships cannot change the world."
Platini said another success was that what he believes to be the two best teams in the tournament -- reigning European and World Cup champion Spain, and 2006 World Cup champion Italy -- have wound up playing each other in the final.
Based on reporting by AFP and dpa